A Diamond Creek vertical back to 1978 along with some other good bottles from the 1970s
This past Friday we gathered at my house to taste a vertical of seven Diamond Creek wines from 1994 back to 1978. It is only natural to taste more wine than what we gathered for. So with mixed results we tasted some aged bubbly while we waited for everyone to arrive. We then sat down at the dining room table to work through four blind mature wines of the California and Bordeaux nature. Following the Diamond Creek vertical and dinner, we wrapped the evening up with some interesting dessert wines.
The Sparkling Flight
I rarely notice old bottles of Californian sparkling wine for sale. While there could be a reason for this, Lou and I were sure to snatch up a bottle each from the Earthquake Cellar. Only the 1996 Iron Horse, Wedding Cuvee, Sparkling Wine, Sonoma County turned out to be mature and completely drinkable. The fruit is mature with added complexity from baking spices. The bubbles are starting to dissipate so I would drink this up. Unfortunately, no amount of sparkle could resurrect the past-prime flavors of the 1991 Beaulieu Vineyards, “100th Anniversary” Brut Reserve, Sparkling Wine. To compensate I opened my second bottle of NV Besserat de Bellefon, Grande Tradition, Champagne (1970s release) hoping that this one would have bubbles. It didn’t. Despite the better looking bottle, the cork was saturated with fuzzy gray mold which did not bode well for what was inside.
1996 Iron Horse, Wedding Cuvee, Sparkling Wine, Sonoma County
The mature and reasonably attractive nose revealed orchard fruit, some brioche, and baking spice. In the mouth, the creamy and nutty start mixed with moderate bubbles that dissipated by the finish. Fully mature. ** Now.
1991 Beaulieu Vineyards, “100th Anniversary” Brut Reserve, Sparkling Wine, Carneros
This smells old with plenty of apple orchard flavors. In the mouth are ample amounts of aggressive, fine bubbles that yield a youthful framework for the wine. Unfortunately, the flavors are old and short. Not Rated.
NV Besserat de Bellefon, Grande Tradition, Champagne Brut (1970s release)
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Completely flat with aromas and flavors of a white wine way past its prime. Not Rated.
The Blind Flight
We kicked off the red wines by tasting a blind flight at the dining room table. I knew what the first wines were, but having only tasted one upon decanting, it was fun none the less. The 1982 Niebaum-Coppola, Rubicon, Napa Valley is destined for a long life. The nose is young, the fruit dark and in balance with the structure and acidity. The wine is linear and firm, never giving up its flavor. I believe there was a general consensus this was old California. It will last but I do not see it improving. The 1975 Chateau Palmer, Margaux tasted on the light and thin side when first decanted. An hour of air only benefited the bottle for it offered up attractive aromas and flavors of sweet, mature fruit. I like Palmer and this bottle of 1975 delivered all I could hope for from this vintage. Most people thought this was old Bordeaux. The 1975 Heitz Wine Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley was a flawed bottle. I could work my way around the nose but in the mouth the brief, hopeful start soon turned coarse. Impossible to say what this was blind. Finally, the 1975 Chateau La Lagune, Haut Medoc threw me and others for a loop. We soon knew the last two wines were from the same vintage but this did not help in any way. The coffee and chocolate aromas had me leaning towards California but the flavors towards Bordeaux. The wine turned out to be quite youthful with plenty of strength. A good wine but not as seductive as the Palmer.
1982 Niebaum-Coppola, Rubicon, Napa Valley
This smells young with cherry fruit. The flavors are a bit linear becoming darker and blacker as the wine firms up towards the middle. It is salty and savory with a structure of fine tannins woven throughout. It does show some mature flavors in the middle before finishing up with salivating acidity. ** Now but will last.
1975 Chateau Palmer, Margaux
Shipped by Caves Robert Michelle. Imported by Parliament Import. Alcohol 11% – 14%. There is a good, mature nose of sweet old fruit with a hint of musk. The sweet fruit fills the mouth in a gentle way. There is a touch of fat with structure still present through the end. It is a lighter wine, with attractive flavors, some bacon, and a sappy finish. Drinking great right now. *** Now.
1975 Heitz Wine Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.5%. Strong aromas of VA on the nose. In the mouth is a brief bit of fresh, young flavors before the coarseness came out. Shame. Not Rated.
1975 Chateau La Lagune, Haut Medoc
The aromas of coffee and chocolate had me on the fence about being from Bordeaux. In the mouth this finely textured wine had a cedar hint before savory, weighty flavors came out. There is good acidity. The wine became even more youthful with air, showing dark fruit, and lurking power. The finish was savory and a bit electric. Needs more time? *** Now – 2021.
The Diamond Creek Flights
Anyone with interest in Diamond Creek Vineyards should read the transcript of Carole Hicke’s interview of Albert Brounstein in 1998. In fact, the entire Wine Spectator California Wine Oral History Series is great fun. Diamond Creek Vineyards became California’s first all Cabernet Sauvignon winery when the 79 acre property was purchased in 1967. Al Brounstein wanted to make the best possible wine from Cabernet Sauvignon instead of the more uneven Zinfandel. He interacted a lot with Ridge Vineyards in those early days before Paul Draper.
The Diamond Creek vineyards were promptly planted in 1968. Al Brounstein wanted to plant vines from France, but UC Davis said they would quarantine them for six years before they could be released. Al Brounstein did not want to wait and he wanted the best cuttings possible so he approached the great First Growths of Bordeaux. The cuttings went from France to Mexico City then up to Tijuana then over to Rosarita Beach. Here Al Brounstein would fly them back up to his vineyard in his private plane.
The Bordeaux estates from which the cuttings came from are not revealed in the interview. There is a cryptic clue however, “even though I’m going to tell you three names out of the five, of which two may or may not be included…I’m not revealing any names”. He goes on to mention Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut Brion, and Chateau Latour.
The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varieties were planted as a field blend for this practice is what Al Brounstein observed during his vineyard visits in Europe. The vineyards were first planted with 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot. In the early 1970s he began to replace dead or damaged vines with Cabernet Franc, eventually coming to 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc distribution. Wine was first produced with the 1971 vintage. All of the 1971 vintage, except for the one case which was drunk, was used to top off the casks of the first commercial vintage of 1972.
There were three original vineyards: Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace, and Volcanic Hill. The Gravelly Meadow lies on a prehistoric river bed which drains rapidly forcing the vines to search for water. It is the second coolest microclimate and was equated to Chateau Haut Brion. The 7 acre Red Rock Terrace faces north with red tinted soil from high iron content. It has a warm microclimate and was equated to Chateau Haut Brion. The 8 acre Volcanic Hill faces south where it lies on volcanic soils, producing what is considered the biggest wine of the three. It was equated to Chateau Latour.
Wines from these three vineyards are what we tasted. They have always been produced with an eye towards slow development which came out in the young vintages. The modern 1994 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley is young and densely packed. Though it will develop for quite some time, it is surprisingly accessible with plenty of fruit. In contrast, the 1987 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley which also show great future potential, is a more savory wine with less fruit weight and quite attractive in its youth.
The 1980 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley gave the first taste of an old-school Californian wine. It is attractively sweaty with more restraint and structure. It will drink well for sometime and might even improve. It certainly set the stage for the final pair from 1978. The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley is livelier with brighter, red fruit, lively acidity, and very fine tannins. In contrast the 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley is deeper and darker in flavor, slowly unfurling its power which takes grip on your mouth. It was my favorite red wine of the night. I really enjoy this type of wine and all I wanted to do is drink it.
1994 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The red fruit slowly builds intensity, taking on licorice as well. The wine is quite fruity, packing in a lot of unique flavor, but is also rather young with fine tannins. With this savory flavor, the wine maintains a dense core of fruit that is clean and thick. **** Now – 2031.
1992 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. Corked! Not Rated.
1987 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The sweaty nose is dark and aromatic. In the mouth are savory, mouthfilling flavors framed by structure and watering acidity. This wine is on the upslope of development. With air the red and black fruit is lighter in weight making the fine structure noticeable. The flavorful finish is followed by an aftertaste of dark roast and soil. ***(*) Now – 2031
1980 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. Off bottle! Not Rated.
1980 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is sweaty and dark, not showing the intensity of the 1978s. The mature flavors exist in a touch more structure with fine tannins and a sweaty finish. It shows a good balance between fruit, structure, and acidity. With air there are mature flavors of cherry mixed with dry spices, salivating to juicy acidity and very fine tannins. ***(*) Now – 2026.
1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is more subtle but deeper with a crayon hint. The red fruit is balanced by acidity making this more accessible. The fruit flavors are bright but backed by depth and delivered in a lively, mature manner. There is good balance with the acidity seamlessly bound in, matching the structure. It wraps up with fine flavors of clean red fruit and a wood box hint. **** Now but will last.
1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is a touch earthy. In the mouth the darker fruit is rich with grip, steadily expanding in the mouth. The fresh and tart structure is left on the gum as some sweet, not quite grainy fruit, persists through the aftertaste. **** Now but will last.
The Dessert Flight
There were four dessert wines opened. The first two in full-bottles were served blind and the last two, in halves, were from Canada. There is little in print with regards to 1976 Hermann Freiherr von Schorlemer, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Despite the greatness of Bernkastel wines, the von Schorlemer family is not mentioned in Andre Simon’s and S. F. Halgarten’s The Great Wines of Germany (1963), Frank Schoomaker’s Encyclopedia of Wine (1965), nor Ian Jamieson’s German Wines (1991). There are a handful of advertisements for von Schorlemer wines in the late 1960s, usually featuring other offerings of Alexis Lichine. Fortunately, Phil reached out to Johannes Selbach who promptly responded. The von Schorlemer is a noble family that owned some of the best vineyard of the Mittelmosel which were highly regarded before World War 1. They were still a top estate in the 1960s. It sounds like interests changed so a large holdings of vineyards were sold off in 1969 which marked the slow decline of the estate. Our bottle was in perfect condition with a supremely beautiful color. Michael Broadbent rates the vintage four out of five stars noting it was a “supremely rich vintage”. With aromas of apricots and baking spices the sweet peach flavors were sported along by watering acidity. If you happen to have a bottle I would consider drinking it. The finish was a touch short but the wine resurrected itself with a very long aftertaste. I freely admit I had no clue what the 1995 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume was. It was not as mature in color as the von Schorlemer and much younger in the mouth. It needs time in bottle but you simply must love the fat and electric acidity that carries the residual sugar down your throat.
1976 Herman Freiherr von Schorlemer, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Imported by Woodley Wine & Liquor. Alcohol 10%. This golden colored wine smells of apricots, cream, and baking spices. There are flavors of textured sweet peach with watering acidity. The intensity of the flavors fall off in the finish only to return in the incredibly long aftertaste. **** Now.
1995 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume
Shipped by Bertrand Bordeaux. Imported by Prestige Wine Co. Alcohol 13.5%. Though lighter than the 1976 Riesling, the color suggests maturity. In the mouth is a very sweet start with fat, lots of sugar, and almost electric acidity. **** Now – 2046.